When crew on board a fishing boat dredged up the corpse of a mysterious sea creature, it was thought they'd come across a modern-day dinosaur.
But after taking photographs and samples from the rotting 30ft carcass that weighed 1,800kg, the captain decided to throw it back into the sea because of the foul smell.
The discovery was made in April 1977 when the Japanese trawler, Zuiyo Maru was sailing east of Christchurch in New Zealand.
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The fishermen onboard were convinced they'd found an unidentified animal, but despite the potential biological significance of the curious discovery, captain Akira Tanaka decided to chuck it back into the water so not to risk spoiling the caught fish.
But not before photos and samples of its skeleton, skin and fins were taken from the creature – nicknamed Nessie – for further expert analysis.
The creature had a long neck, four large red-coloured fins and a tail about 2m long.
There were no internal organs in the chest cavity and the gut had opened up from decay, but flesh and fat were intact allowing amnio acids to be extracted for examination.
Many – including scientists from Yokohama and Tokyo University – thought it was a sea serpent or a prehistoric plesiosaur, a creature which met its downfall along with dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
It caused a huge commotion and a "plesiosaur craze" in Japan and the shipping company ordered all its boats to try and relocate the dumped corpse, but with no success.
However, other scientists were more sceptical and Swedish paleontologist, Hans-Christian Bjerring said: "If it's true that the Japanese collected samples of fins and skin, it would be possible to conclude from a microscope what it is.
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"If it would be shown to be a hitherto unknown animal from the sea, it is as big of a sensation as the discovery of the coelancanth in 1938… but there is reason to be suspicious of the claims of plesiosaurs, for example, as the marine environment and fauna changed drastically since the age of the plesiosaurs on earth."
Another, Ove Persson said: "The plesiosaur is much bigger and breathes with lungs. It seems incredible that it would manage to remain hidden."
It was later concluded that while the identity of the carcass could not be determined with certainty, it was most likely that of a basking shark or closely related species.
Decomposing basking shark carcasses lose most of the lower head area and the dorsal and caudal fins first, making them resemble a plesiosaur.
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